Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Wednesday, August 06, 2003  

I was thinking some more about that whole kielbasa vs. incrementalism deal, and I had another thought. Part of what plagues the left is that, since Reagan, it hasn't come to terms with its pursuit of equality. Liberalism is founded on the idea that working together produces benefits for the whole. If you follow that idea in one direction, you end up with communism; if you follow it the other, eventually you come to conservatism, with its reliance on the individual (or personal liberty, the twin pillar of the American dream).

Looking at the 20th Century through this lens, we can see the swing back and forth between a polity favoring indivdual liberty and equality. The century started out in hardcare individualist mode, and we had child labor and 120-hour work weeks and the wealthy overloards and the nearly enslaved underclass and, of course, no middle class. With the rise of labor unions and the crash of the stock market, the pump was primed for a collectivist movement and an emphasis on equality. Enter FDR and the WPA and later LBJ and the ERA. In reaction to the economic bogdown of the 70s and a reaction against civil rights and gender equality, we got the Reagan administration, wherein our current era of "free market" liberty has held sway.

However, a historical hiccup derailed the left's push for equality: the fall of the Berlin Wall. The greatest historical experiment with collectivism collapsed, proving once and for all that this notion of equality led inevitably to sloth and tyranny. (Well, not really, but that's what we read in Time.) And unfortunately, liberals haven't known what to do with this. Clinton made a couple of ill-fated forays into the equality pool--health care and gays in the military--and when these failed, it seemed to signal the end of equality. Because the original sense of equality--an equal playing field--was lost, now the right has co-opted equality as the freedom to pursue individual liberties. So Affirmative Action is unfair because it interferes with a white man's ability to get a job.

So it seems relevant to ask: is equality a virtue the left stands for?

The reason I like Kucinich is because he's unabashed in his answer to the question: absolutely yes. He realizes you can't have freedom and personal liberty without equality. If the government does not create an environment in which all citizens have equal access to food and water, shelter, health care, education, physical safety, and a decent job, it's wholly unreasonable to claim that it's serving their individual liberty.

In a broader sense, the virtue of equality springs from the sense that working together we can create a society that's better for people than one that's wholly competitive, winner-take-all. If you happen to have all the advantages, the freedom to compete head to head is beguiling. It seems superficially democratic. But we know from history that this leads to the situation of the gilded age--good for a very few people, and bad for the country as a whole. As a country, we're far better off when we have a fat middle class. Promoting equality is good for the country. We have always known that, but we forget from time to time. Even now many of the Dems have forgotten--or are just uneasy with the idea. Time to remember what we stand for: liberty and equality.

Which is another reason I'm backing Kucinich.

posted by Jeff | 12:13 PM |
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